Monday, April 16, 2007

Bit rates, guerilla sampling and the Korg mr-1

Sporting a built-in condenser mic, an unusual recrding scheme, and conversion software for both Mac and Pc, the new MR1 hand held recorder from Korg seems to have a lot of people scratching their heads. The question seems to be, in a world where higher bit rates normally mean a better, more pristine sound, what in the world is Korg thinking releasing anything that only works with 1-bit sound? Isn't that the opposite of what we really want? The simplest answer goes something like this: those bit rates that you see everywhere, from mp3s to edting software, are denoting a kind of file compression applied to the audio file to make it smaller. The higher the bit rate, the more detail makes it through the compression process. The lower the bit rate, the less detail makes it through. This is a (retardedly) simplified version of the real answer, but it will do for our purposes.

So, why 1-bit sound? Because 1-bit sound denotes the complete absence of software file compression. Thus fidelity is achieved not through a clever scheme that keeps files small, but a clever scheme that allows files to be as large as possible in order to retain clarity. Pack that into something the size of an iPod with a built in condenser mic and a dozen other tiny but neato features and you've got a groovy thing goin' on.

Way back in the day, I used to carry around a hand held mini-cassette recorder for the purposes of guerilla sampling. Hiding it in a pocket to be snuck out and triggered at the right moment, I would record everything from weird sounds I came across throughout my day to snippets of conversations. The quality wasn't great, but the alteratives seemd to have too many drawbacks: minidiscs went almost as soon as they came, traditional cassette recorders were too bulky and offered little better quality in terms of mics, and hand held mp3 recorders just seemed too flimsy and expensive for what they were. It would seem that technology has indeed caught up with my adolescent sampling dreams at last.

A larger and slightly less portable model also exists, the MR1000, offering 40 gigs of space over the MR1's 20 gigs, an incerased sample rate of 5.6mHz, and dozens of more serious features aimed at a much more discerning crowd. These features do, of course, sacrifice some portability, but it's still the size of a rather large hoagie, and is geared toward a more professional crowd.

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